Year in Review #1: What's Next?

Started by ModAdmin, January 02, 2024, 04:08:11 AM

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Year in Review #1: What's Next? - Ed Tait


It seemed so cut and dried a year ago - a simple approach needing only a rubber-stamp approval even while working under the restrictions of the Canadian Football League's salary cap.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had just dropped the 109th Grey Cup by one point to the Toronto Argonauts and the consensus from everyone - coaches, management, players, fans - was to push to keep the band together for another run at glory.

The club did that, returning primarily the same crew that ultimately come so close, for 2023 with a couple of notable additions in game-breaking receiver Kenny Lawler and veteran kicker Sergio Castillo.

And now?

Well, as the calendar is about to flip to 2024 the landscape is not nearly as clear-cut. Oh sure, the Blue Bombers are coming off a 14-4 season ? the team is 29-7 in the last two regular seasons - but there are subtle hits by some of retirement, others will take their shots at the NFL, while so many are deserving of bumps in pay they likely won't earn unless they test the free-agent market.

The silver lining here? In late November the club announced two-year contract extensions for GM Kyle Walters and assistant GMs Ted Goveia and Danny McManus and a day after that, offensive coordinator Buck Pierce opted to remain with the club after having been interviewed for the head coaching gig with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. All of that at least brings stability and continuity to the football operations/coaching staff.

Pierce's return is enormous, as he is not only immensely respected across the league, but also the architect of an offence which finished first in scoring in 2023.

"It all comes back to family for me, first and foremost, and the people I'm around all the time," said Pierce of the decision to stay with the club. "It's about the situation I have here with the people I get to work with every day - the players, the coaching staff and what we've built. I want to be part of continuing to build that."

The Blue Bombers roster currently features 24 players who are 30 years or older, including 14 starters. The list of pending free agents started at 36 when the offseason began but is now down to 30 after Willie Jefferson, Pat Neufeld, Redha Kramdi, Tanner Cadwallader, Deatrick Nichols and Cam Lawson all agreed to new deals earlier this month.

That still leaves a whole lot of questions and a ton of decisions that must be made as free agency approaches in mid-February.
"At this point last year, after the season we had, after losing a tough one to Toronto in the Grey Cup, we had a core group and said, 'Let's try to bring as many of the guys back as we can.' And we did," said Walters at a press conference after his contract extension had been announced. "We lost Casey Sayles (Hamilton) and Michael Couture moved on (to B.C.), but we had replacements in house and said, 'This almost feels like we've got the core group to make another run.'

"We're a year older now and I think this will be a more challenging off-season than in years past because of the transition."

What makes it especially challenging is the locker room has been so cohesive over the past seven seasons - all featuring double-digit win totals - as the Blue Bombers have become the CFL's flagship franchise. Head coach Mike O'Shea has always leaned on veteran-heavy lineups, right through the foot soldiers who shine on special teams. Said Walters: "(O'Shea) doesn't place a lot on age. It's just about productivity. But obviously, the older players are, there's generally higher risk of injury, salaries generally are higher, so all of that will go into our decision."

Jefferson, coming off a season in which he earned another spot on the CFL Al-Star Team and was named the Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player, has seen this movie before over a career in this league that began in 2014.

It's just that the stars of the show in these parts have become so familiar to him and to the fan base. Saying good-bye won't be easy.

So, what's next for the Blue Bombers? Time will soon tell.

"That's the business, that's life, that's football," Jefferson reasoned. "There are life decisions every day, every year. I had to tell this to my wife, not right after the (Grey Cup), but after the season was over sitting at the house: It's going to be a new team next year. There are going to be some young guys coming in taking some positions. There are going to be some older guys leaving, just to hang it up because it is what it is.

"That's football, and you got to live with it and roll with it. To the guys that aren't coming back because they decide to retire, I wish them the best in their future endeavours, their life after football. And to the young guys coming in, come in, be ready to work, be hungry, have your ears open, have your eyes open, because in this locker room, we're always trying to teach, we're always trying to make the next guy better, and let's get ready to work."
"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." - John Wooden

Lincoln Locomotive

You can only roll with maintaining the status quo for a finite and short window and then there needs to be some major changes.....the bitter pill was losing to younger and hungrier teams in the last two Cups....who will retire and who will not be asked to renew their contracts and then who will be retained when perhaps their best days are past?    Comments?
Bomber fan for life

Jesse

Quote from: Lincoln Locomotive on January 03, 2024, 04:17:27 PM
You can only roll with maintaining the status quo for a finite and short window and then there needs to be some major changes.....the bitter pill was losing to younger and hungrier teams in the last two Cups....who will retire and who will not be asked to renew their contracts and then who will be retained when perhaps their best days are past?    Comments?

Average age of all teams are within a year of each other.

No one is holding on too long. We were a dominate team all year that lost the last game of the season.
My wife is amazing!

blue_gold_84

I don't think status quo applies to this team. It's been mostly next man up from what I call tell. This is an organization that drafts well, has solid depth, and retains talent as one of the best, if not the best in the CFL.

An aging veteran core was a concern going into 2023 and the team performed well more often than not.

I can't see 2024 being any exception with the Canadian Mafia at the helm.
#forthew
лава Україні!
Don't be a Rich.

Throw Long Bannatyne

Quote from: Lincoln Locomotive on January 03, 2024, 04:17:27 PM
You can only roll with maintaining the status quo for a finite and short window and then there needs to be some major changes.....the bitter pill was losing to younger and hungrier teams in the last two Cups....who will retire and who will not be asked to renew their contracts and then who will be retained when perhaps their best days are past?    Comments?

So far nobody has indicated they're retiring, according to Jeff Hamilton both Jake and Stanley intend to continue their careers, don't think O'Shea would ever cut either one but could see him easing them into a secondary role.

Jesse

Jake is already in a secondary role. Lawson plays more than him. If he comes back, it's to continue at a depth role.
My wife is amazing!

DM83

Jake probably grades out at a consistently acceptable level. He does his job as good as anybody, ties up two blockers and allows the ends to flourish.  He hustles is. Low maintenance.  What more do ya want?